Classic styles reinvigorated with an eco-friendly twist. Barcelona brand SAYE is using its environmentally-conscious trainers as a path to education, showing just how stylish, comfortable and sustainable going green can be. Schön! spoke with the team behind SAYE to hear the whole story about how they entered the fashion industry, their commitment to environmentalism, and the movement they hope to start with the label.
What is your history in the fashion industry, and how did that lead to you starting Saye?
Neither of the three of us worked in the fashion industry before starting SAYE, but for the three of us, sneakers were a very important part of our outfits, and for Lizzie mostly, fashion is a huge part of her lifestyle.
Marta, Co-Founder of SAYE, worked three years in strategic consulting and in a personal project of sunglasses when she finished her Business Administration degree in ESADE University. Right after that, she studied a Digital Marketing Masters, and she began to create the idea of a sustainable sneaker brand.
Lizzie, another Co-Founder of SAYE, worked in marketing and communication since she finished her degree in ESADE. She worked for two years in a communications agency in NYC and almost three years in BCN. When she left her job, she went on a trip and Marta contacted her and explained to her the idea she had in mind. Lizzie didn’t think twice and told her that she wanted to get involved in the project; trying to create something related to the fashion industry that could make a difference was what she wanted.
Damian, SAYE’s third Co-Founder, has always been an entrepreneur. He has created two companies; a promoter of electronic music and a virtual reality company. When Marta and Lizzie told him about SAYE he immediately saw it as a great opportunity. Damian has never stopped training in the field of image and design through small projects and collaborations with other creators.
In March 2018, we finally launched WADO (at that time) and the campaign was a complete success. It allowed us to produce the first 7,000 pairs of sneakers, and we became the most funded Spanish fashion project ever on Kickstarter. After that month, in April 2018, we moved the project to Indiegogo and used the platform as the only online sales channel for more than 20 months. That period allowed us to make the project grow and turn it into an actual company with 10 people employed. At the end of that period, we had become the most funded fashion shoe ever on the history of the crowdfunding platform. In December 2019, we closed Indiegogo and moved to our own e-commerce. That same time, and due to a trademark issue that prevented us from continuing to expand internationally, we decided to change their name to SAYE.
You’ve said that Saye “makes timeless sneakers and uses them as a vehicle for change.” What exactly does “change” mean to Saye?
With Saye, we’ve created a brand that goes beyond the product. We are talking about changing our behaviour towards consumerism [and] downshifting to an essential living and fostering longevity — inspiring change… with style. Ultimately, it’s about acknowledging the value of things again with ageless and genderless long-lasting sustainable high-end products. Because the sneakers you choose to wear define who you are and what you stand for, in SAYE we take very seriously three main points:
- Our workforce conditions
- Fighting against deforestation
- Our compromise to become zero waste
Recovering the connection between nature and people while shifting to an essential living and doing things with a purpose makes our lives meaningful. Ultimately, we believe that together we can make citizens evolve and shift to a lifestyle that has a positive impact towards the climate crisis. SAYE inspires a conscious way of buying less, sharing more, and investing in high-quality products that last for years.
We believe that the solution to address the climate crisis is not (just) about planting trees, recycling plastic, or using organic materials. It’s about changing our behaviour in our everyday decisions with regards to nature, giving a twist to the way we are designing, manufacturing, and especially consuming things.
How does Saye’s production chain differ from the average trainer?
In SAYE, we produce everything in Felgueiras, Portugal. 87% of the world’s footwear is manufactured in Asia or in developing countries, which is linked to labour exploitation through cheap workforces. There, workers’ rights are limited or nonexistent. Usually, they have interminable work shifts, precarious salaries, and scarce security in their factories.
We are determined not to be part of this. From the beginning, we only wanted to partner with suppliers that respect their workers, improving their living conditions and providing them a good working environment: a factory where employment is freely chosen and where child labour is not used in any case. Therefore, we focused on finding partners in Europe that work under the same values as we believe in. Our search started in our own country, Spain, but after visiting several factories that did not meet our expectations, we decided to knock on the door of our neighbour country, Portugal — well-known not only for its quality footwear industry but also for the excellence of its service and its ability to deliver small series. We had finally found our partner.
Located in the North of Portugal, Felgueiras is the heart of the country’s footwear industry. Our partner, You Shoes, is made up of artisans that really love the work they do, and we proudly can confirm that one year and 18,000 sneakers later, they still maintain a high standard of ethics: fair wages and shifts, gender equality and most importantly, they treat their workers as family. We also work with suppliers from Alicante, Spain. The concentration of our manufacturing suppliers within the same geographical area allows us to create an efficient and quickly-collaborative network that ensures the use of local materials and reduces our carbon footprint.
What inspired the original design of your Modelo ‘89?
The SAYE Modelo ’89 is a vintage sneaker model inspired by the 80s, available in six colours. It incorporates a tongue with a cork detail as a symbol of our social and reforestation project. It is a classic sneaker that does not go out of style.
Tell us a bit about your vegan trainer. Besides its slick design, what sets it apart?
In 2018, twelve million pairs of shoes were produced from non-reusable or non-biodegradable virgin plastic. Currently, 90% of sneakers are made of plastic, a petroleum-based material. With all that plastic waste in the ecosystem, it is not enough to just stop producing it — it must be reintroduced into the industrial chain.
Following an exercise of innovation and after a year and a half of Research and Development, we managed to make this upcycled sneaker, made with 100% recycled and recyclable fibres from recovered plastics. Inspired by the Modelo ’89 collection, this is our commitment to the vegan path while we keep up with our main values, including becoming a zero-waste brand, fighting for fair production and working conditions, and continuing to fund the growth of thousands of trees in the most needed areas of the planet.
Our Vegan Napa contains 35% recycled post-consumer fibres (RPET), made of discarded garments and different reintroduced PET articles. It is a Global Recycled Standard (GRS) product, manufactured in Spain. This vegan model still introduces as many organic and recycled materials as possible. We keep using organic cotton that doesn’t involve chemical fertilizers or damaging pesticides in its production process and recycled materials that otherwise would become a waste of the automotive industry. That’s why it’s not just a vegan sneaker.
Saye is also fighting deforestation. What can you tell us about the brand’s relationship with the NGO We Forest?
At SAYE, we’ve fought against deforestation since 2018 and allowed anyone to take part in our project. Every time you buy a pair of shoes, we fund the growth of two trees in collaboration with the NGO We Forest.
Joining forces enables us not only to restore trees in the most needed areas of the planet but also to empower forest-dependent local communities by providing them with tools for their livelihood and development while training them on how to regenerate and protect the forest so it can become a sustainable wood and food resource for them. At SAYE, we have been planting two trees for each pair of sneakers sold since the beginning, allowing us to help grow more than we could have ever expected. So far, we’ve funded 76,434 trees: 30,326 trees in India, 43,878 in Zambia, 248 in the Amazon, and 1,982 in Australia. Our goal is to double this number by the end of 2020, reaching 100,000 trees.
Given your multiple ventures, what would you say are the core values and ethos of Saye as whole?
SAYE is encouraging, trustworthy, inspirational, and humble. SAYE connects people with what really matters, making them feel included, empowered, connected, and inspired to live a fulfilling life that respects, protects, and preserves the planet.
We wanted to make timeless sneakers and use them as a vehicle for change: a change for our People and our Planet. From the inside out and from the roots up, a new set of social values starting with our shoes, all the way through to our Social and Planting project.
What do you have planned for the future of Saye?
Becoming a zero-waste brand, using as many recycled materials as possible in our products. Also, we will introduce more products into the brand. In October, we will launch our first clothing line and a new sneaker model.